NASCAR fans will remember Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race for its fantastic finish between Chase Briscoe and Grant Enfinger in the days and weeks that follow. In the months and years that follow, those same fans should remember Wednesday night’s race as the start of a NASCAR tradition.
Briscoe beat Enfinger to the finish line in a final lap side-by-side battle that culminated with Briscoe pushing Enfinger’s truck into the wall to blunt his momentum enough to secure the win.
NASCAR has raced at Eldora on Wednesday nights in July six times since the Truck Series started going to the Ohio dirt track in 2013. But Wednesday night’s race was the first time it was held on the Wednesday after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The Wednesday night after the All-Star Game is traditionally one of the slowest on the American sports calendar. The only sports competition this night was ESPN’s ESPY Awards, hosted — coincidentally — by former NASCAR driver Danica Patrick.
But NASCAR isn’t going to take a bite out of the ESPY’s with a third-tier race on Fox Sports 1, a cable channel that still lags way behind ESPN in total viewers. It needs to schedule a Cup Series race on NBC for the Wednesday after the All-Star Game as soon as possible. There’s nothing to lose.
Sentiment for NASCAR to have a mid-week summer race has grown like compound interest in recent years, especially as television ratings for NASCAR races in traditional Saturday night and Sunday afternoon windows are falling by double digits year-over-year.
Yet NASCAR has continued to sit on its hands when it comes to trying weeknight races with the Cup Series. Pragmatism is good, especially from a sanctioning body that changes its championship format every three years, but this scheduling pragmatism has turned into procrastination.
And there’s more waiting ahead as well. NASCAR’s already released the 2019 Cup Series schedule and there are no midweek races for the Cup Series on it. Hell, it seems that Eldora landed after the All-Star Game by coincidence anyway. The All-Star Game was a week later in 2018 than it was in 2017 and next year’s Eldora Truck Series race is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 1, meaning NASCAR is vacating the day after the All-Star Game just a year after dipping its toe into the water. That’s egregious.
NASCAR needs to re-attempt to claim the day in 2020, the final year of its five-year sanctioning agreements with the tracks that populate the sanctioning body’s three series schedules. The expiring contracts should give NASCAR some leverage — if it chooses to use it — to push tracks into trying a mid-week summer race or two.
If not, 2021 is the next shot, but who knows what position the series will find itself in at that point. Television ratings below 1.0 — an unheard of prospect just five years ago — could be the norm by then at the current rate of viewer attrition. Maybe there won’t be enough capital to try a mid-week race or two.
As sponsors and fans leave, NASCAR needs to be bold about making some structural changes and the upside to a mid-week race far outweighs the downside. Holding a Cup Series race on the day after the All-Star Game is a relatively easy change that should have happened years ago. But it hasn’t, so the near future is the next best chance.
Hopefully NASCAR can go find some kindling to add to the spark that Eldora provided Wednesday night.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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